What is Economic Abuse?
The National Network to End Domestic Violence defines economic abuse “as a common tactic used by abusers to gain power and control in a relationship. The forms of economic abuse may be subtle or overt but in general, it includes tactics to conceal information, limit the victim’s access to assets, or reduce accessibility to the family finances”.
Identified as a form of abuse and enshrined in the Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015, economic (financial) abuse is defined as: having money or other property stolen; being defrauded; being put under pressure in relation to money or other property; and having money or other property misused.
The NNEDV studies of abusive relationships alongside other research conducted show that 94- 99% of such domestic abuse victims have also suffered economic abuse.
Economic abuse is considered to be the first sign of coercive control, which is a repeated behavioural pattern where one’s partner acts in a way that makes a person feel controlled, dependent, isolated or scared.
Economic abuse is unique in the sense that it creates barriers to leaving physically or psychologically abusive relationships. This results in an individual staying with an abuser for longer and experiencing more abuse and harm as a result.
Studies also show that women are more likely to be susceptible to domestic violence if they are unable to access a reasonable sum of money, necessary for their independence within a short notice.
Who Suffers Economic Abuse?
While economic abuse can affect both genders, women are far more disadvantaged due to prevalent societal gender roles, where men are considered to be responsible for finances in the home.
Forms of Economic Abuse
Economic abuse takes many forms, the most common situations include:
Preventing a person from obtaining and maintaining employment. Research indicates that abusive persons often forbid, discourage, and actively prevent their partners from working outside the home.
Making all major financial decisions without consulting the victim.
Placing the victim on an ‘allowance’
Coerced debt: obtaining loans/mortgages in the victim’s name.
Interfering with their partners’ ability to find employment.
Interfering with their partners’ efforts to take part in self-improvement activities aimed at increasing their marketability in the labour force, and heightening their chance of obtaining a decent job.
Refusing to put the victim’s name on jointly acquired assets.
Women and Development: How Has Economic Abuse Affected Global Development?
The degree and form of economic abuse differ across regions. Research shows that the effect of economic abuse disproportionately affects low-and-high-income countries. The effect of economic abuse is more severe in poorer regions, however, there is scarcity of data relating to this in such regions.
Economic abuse in certain regions is often a reflection of the culture, belief and attitude of the society. The orientation in deeply patriarchal society is usually responsible for the restriction of economic opportunities available to women.
Economic Abuse in Low-Income Societies: A Nigerian Case Study
In low-income countries such as Nigeria, survey indicates that a whopping 64 per cent of women reported that their partners made all the decision relating to household finance and expenditure. Where such women work they cannot make decisions as to how the money they earn is spent. It is also established that across sub-Saharan Africa, women earn considerably less than men and also own fewer assets. In Nigeria, women own only 4% of land in the North-East and just over 10% in the South-South and South-East.
Discrimination in the lending process and access to credit also places women in Sub-Saharan Africa at a disadvantage. The inability to access collateral and the often restrictive deposit requirements ensures that women are less likely to obtain formal loans which are required for economic stability.
In Sub-Saharan African, Women’s future aspirations are usually tied to their access to credit, with the hope that they can be self-sufficient and independent from violent or controlling relationships.
It is important to note that cultural pattern usually leads to women justifying this economic abuse, and this view is also held by the wider society. Consequently, there are currently no existing laws which recognize this form of abuse.
Some of the Effects of Economic Abuse in Low-Income Regions Include:
Creating domestic tension resulting from disputes over control of financial resources and its allocation. This may also spill over into physical abuse. This form of abuse is mainly prevalent where the male partner also earns low wages.
Social inequality, which promotes the sexual exploitation of girls and young women by men who have access to economic resources.
Developing various psychological issues, such as depression, suicidal tendencies, and substance abuse among others.
Draining the economically productive workforce.
Economic Abuse in High-Income Regions: A British Case Study
The pattern of economic abuse in high-income regions is considerably different, but the outcome is remarkably similar. There is also more available data and dedicated attempt at research into this form of abuse in these regions.
A survey commissioned by the Co-operative Bank and Refuge revealed that one in five British adults have experienced financial abuse in a current or past relationship. Victims span gender, age and income groups; however, given the gendered nature of domestic violence, 60% of all incidents are reported by women.
A major distinction in understanding economic abuse in the United Kingdom is the fact that 70% of people who had experienced financial abuse reported being in either full-time or part-time employment. This pattern indicates that many who experience financial abuse in high-income regions actually work or have access to credit facilities.
There is also a distinct difference in economic abuse patterns relating to minority populations and immigrants. For example, research shows that South Asian immigrant populations in Britain earn considerably less and have lower employment rates than their male counterparts. They also have less control over their own income and how it is used.
The United Kingdom is also unique as it has identified economic abuse as a form of domestic violence and has formulated some innovative approaches to dealing with economic abuse, these include:
Practical responses to financial abuse: financial advocacy, and education through charities like the Citizens Advice Bureau.
Sector innovation: there has been an attempt at self-regulation by the financial sector. For example, UK Finance, a trade association for the sector, introduced the first voluntary financial abuse code of conduct.
Legal responses to financial abuse: The UK government recognised economic abuse as part of domestic violence over a decade ago, and this is reflected in the paper, Safety and Justice: The Government's Proposals on Domestic Violence (Home Office, 2003).
Parliament in 2019 introduced a draft Domestic Violence Bill which provides the first-ever statutory Government definition of domestic abuse to specifically include economic abuse, controlling and manipulative non-physical abuse.
What Can Be Done?
It is evident that economic abuse is prevalent across all regions of the world, even though the severity of its effect may differ in low income and high-income regions.
It is essential that policies that promote women’s economic development are reviewed and implemented. Pursuing such policies increases a woman’s chances of having the means to control have control of her finances and leave an abusive partner; and also creates a better chance of rebuilding her life afterwards, free from her perpetrator’s control.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, policies that deepen access to credit and generally financial inclusion must be actively pursued to also ensure that women are able to experience financial freedom and contribute to the global economy.
E. Stark, (2007) Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press
J. Abor (2006). Female-owned businesses and access to finance: Evidence from the Ghanaian non-traditional export sector. Gender and Behaviour, 4, 508–521
Judy L. Postmus and others, 'Economic Abuse as an Invisible Form Of Domestic Violence: A Multicountry Review'  Trauma, Violence, & Abuse.
Nweke, (2014). Gender wage differences, the case of Nigeria.. 10.13140/RG.2.1.4893.5125.
Olufunmilayo Fawole, (2008). Economic Violence To Women and Girls. Trauma, violence & abuse. 9. 167-77. 10.1177/1524838008
The population of women in Nigeria https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/africaatlse/2016/03/08/women-in-nigeria-make-up-49-per-cent-of-the-population-but-only-four-per-cent-of-lawmakers/
Research into the extent and nature of financial abuse within intimate relationships in the UK https://www.refuge.org.uk/files/Money-Matters.pdf
Chowbey B, Women's narratives of economic abuse and financial strategies in Britain and South Asia Sheffield Hallam University Research Archive (SHURA) http://shura.shu.ac.uk/15232/
Government publishes landmark domestic abuse bill https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-publishes-landmark-domestic-abuse-bill